Litter War

Margie Kay of the Litter Abatement Task Force carries tires dumped near Elkhorn Slough wetlands in North County.

Tires, kitchen appliances, mattresses, bags of trash: It might sound like a scene taken out of a flea market, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s a scene replicated many times over along the roads of Monterey County, where illegal dumping is a growing problem.

Some even dump their piles of unwanted goods and trash next to signs, in English and Spanish, that read “No dumping, subject to a $1,000 fine.”

“I get more calls in my office about illegal dumping and trash than any other calls that we get,” says Monterey County Supervisor John Phillips. Officials say his rural North County district, as well as areas in South County, are most affected, since they have roads that don’t see a lot of traffic.

Lately, people are getting more sophisticated in dumping their trash illegally: They drive truckloads of large furniture, appliances and auto parts wrapped together, for example, to a remote area, tie the pile to a pole or a tree, then drive away.

To reduce illegal dumping, the County Board of Supervisors on June 22 extended agreements with Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority and Monterey Regional Waste Management District 2 and hired Smith & Enright Landscaping Inc. to collect illegally dumped goods, with a three-year, $750,000 contract. The county and SVSWA will contribute $100,000 and MRWMD $25,000, annually until June 30, 2023 to pay Smith & Enright to pick up litter and monitor county roads.

The county’s Illegal Dumping and Litter Abatement Task Force – which includes cities, county departments, waste haulers, industry leaders and community members – has worked to reduce illegal dumping in Monterey County since 1996, with a focus on education and prevention. Volunteers in Marina, Carmel, Prunedale and around the Elkhorn Slough do regular cleanups.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” says Maria Ferdin, supervisor of solid waste at the Monterey County Environmental Health Department and a task force member.

Task force members note that even with vouchers that let people dispose of electronic waste (think TVs, microwaves, computers) and bulky items like mattresses and tires for free – the problem persists. “We have all these programs, yet we still can’t reach whoever these people are,” says Mandy Brooks, resource recovery manager at SVSWA and a task force member.

Phillips and the task force say it’s time to look at other ways to mitigate the issue, such as setting pop-up dumpsters in different areas.

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